But Dell went outside anyway and started walking the areas that Brady already had, calling for the dog.
Brady did the same, moving around the building. He was at the horse pens, half afraid to look inside in case he found a squished dog, when he heard Dell yelling for him. He ran toward Dell’s voice and ended up once again in front of the Bell 47.
“In here,” Dell called out from inside the chopper.
Twinkles was on the pilot seat.
Which he’d chewed to shreds.
When he saw Brady, he thumped his tail happily and gave one loud “arf!”
“Are you kidding me?” Brady asked him, not wanting to analyze the relief making his legs weak. “You can’t jump up onto the couch or get up on the bed without using the chest as a ladder, but you can get onto that chair and chew the hell out of it?”
Twinkles hopped down and sat on his left boot, gazing up at him adoringly.
“Cute,” Dell said.
“Not cute. He just ate five hundred bucks’ worth of leather.”
“Shouldn’t have let him be alone in here,” Dell pointed out.
“Let him? I don’t ‘let’ him do anything. He’s utterly untrainable.”
Dell grinned. “You know what Adam would say, right? He’d say it’s you, that you’re untrainable. And why are you always so on edge about the little guy, anyway? He’s a dog. A damn good one, too.” He ruffled Twinkles’s head fondly. “You just have to be the boss of him, that’s all. Be firm.” He put a finger in Twinkles’s face. “No more chewing.”
Twinkles slid to the floor and exposed his belly to be scratched.
Brady shook his head.
“Oh, like you wouldn’t do the same if you could.” Dell crouched down and obligingly scratched Twinkles’s belly.
“And why hasn’t Lilah found him a home yet?” Brady wanted to know, staring grimly at the destroyed seat.
“Probably because she’s having fun messing with you.” Dell let out a laugh at the look on Brady’s face. “Guess you don’t find this as funny as I do.”
“Not so much, no. Though why I care when it’s your dime, I have no idea.”
Still chuckling, Dell pulled out his cell phone, speed-dialed a number, and put the phone on speaker. A woman answered with a professionally irritated tone: “What do you need now?”
“Jade,” Dell said.
“Nope, it’s the Easter Bunny. And your keys are on your desk.”
Dell shook his head. “Now darlin’, I don’t always call you just because I’ve lost my keys.”
“I’m sorry, you’re right. You wallet’s on your desk, too. As for your little black book, you’re on your own with that one, Dr. Flirt. I’m at lunch.”
Dell sighed. “What did we say about you and the whole power-play thing?”
“That it’s good for your ego to have at least one woman in your life that you can’t flash a smile at and have them drop their panties?”
Dell grinned. “I really like it when you say ‘panties.’ And for the record, I knew where my keys and wallet were.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Okay, I didn’t, but that’s not why I’m calling. Can you bring burgers and fries for me and Brady? Oh, and Adam, too, or he’ll bitch like a little girl.”
“You mean ‘Jade, will you pretty please bring us burgers and fries?’”
“Yes,” Dell said, nodding. “That. And Cokes.” He looked at Brady, who nodded. “And don’t forget the ketchup.”
“You forgot the nice words.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Dell said. “You look fantastic today, I especially love the attitude and sarcasm you’re wearing.”
Jade’s voice went saccharine sweet. “So some low-fat chicken salads, no dressing, and ice water to go, then?”
“Fine,” Dell said, and sighed. “Can we please have burgers and fries?”
“You forgot the ‘Thank you, Goddess Jade,’ but we’ll work on that. Later, boss.”
Brady looked at him. “How is food going to help with the dumbass dog and the shredded pilot seat?”
“I can’t think on an empty stomach.”
As promised, a week later, Brady had worked his ass off and had the Bell 47 ready to fly. He’d had it towed over to Smitty’s, where it now sat on the tarmac. He’d just filed his virgin flight plan when Lilah appeared, a soft just-for-him smile on her mouth. If he’d been Twinkles, he’d have rolled over and exposed his belly. Instead, he brushed his hands off on his jeans and watched her walk toward him.
Just sex . . .That’s what she’d been looking for. Fun and easy. So he had no idea what the f**k was wrong with him that it had been bugging him for days.
Maybe because it felt like more. Which meant he was screwed.
“How’s your baby today?” she asked.
She ran a hand over the helicopter. “You think I don’t see that even a big tough guy like you could have a weakness?”
“More than one,” he murmured.
That seemed to fluster her, and liking that he could do that, he reached for her hand, intertwining his fingers with hers, bringing her hand to his mouth to kiss the palm. “You are my weakness, Lilah. The prettiest one I’ve ever had.”
She bit her lower lip and stared up at him, definitely dazed. Call him sick, but he liked that, too. He’d been watching her twist the men in her life around her little pinkie for two weeks now—Dell, Adam, hell half the guys in Sunshine—and not a single one of them flustered her.
But he did.
He knew she thought he was tough, but the truth was, he thought the same about her. She handled her world and all it threw at her, no complaints, no whining.
And yet she didn’t know how to take a compliment. It was adorable and charming, a devastating combination he discovered.
“I’m surprised you tolerate any weakness in yourself,” she said.
“I usually don’t.”
She stared up at him, eyes sparkling with a heat and something more, something he couldn’t even begin to pretend to read.
He ran a finger over her jaw and then slid his hand into her hair, which felt like silk over his skin. Tightening his grip, he drew her in a little closer.
She came willingly, her mouth opening a little in anticipation of a kiss.
Keeping eye contact, he gave her what she wanted, what he wanted, and brushed his lips over hers. “I’ve thought about leaving here in spite of my promise to stay the month,” he said quietly. “Every day, I’ve thought about it.”
“Hmm. Maybe you don’t want to walk away from me,” she teased, and nipped his bottom lip.
Holding eye contact, he nipped hers back. “I could leave. Don’t ever doubt that, Lilah. Discipline runs deep.”
Her smile faded and she tried to pull away from him, but he held tight. “But,” he said, hating the quick flash of pain his words had put in her eyes, “I’m not going anywhere. Not yet.”
She looked at him for a long beat. “You’re a hard man, Brady Miller.”
“In more ways than one.”
Her gaze flickered to his button fly, and she let out a shaky laugh and dropped her forehead to his chest. “Why do I like you again?”
“Because I’m about to give you the ride of your life. Get in.” He hitched his head toward the chopper. “We’re going out.”
For a week Lilah had hoped to hear those words. Or at least the out part. Not the up part. She didn’t love the up part.
Brady scooped Twinkles into his arms. “I’m going to run him over to Dell, be right back.”She was just stunned enough to still be standing there in the same spot three minutes later when he came back. “Let him drive Jade and Dell crazy for the afternoon.” He moved to the door of the Bell. Turning back, he realized she hadn’t come any closer and stopped. “Come on, get in.”
Nope, not coming on or getting in. “Yeah. No, thanks.”
“Is there a problem?”
Uh-huh. A big one. She didn’t like to fly. In fact, it was safe to say she hated to fly. “You want me to go up with you.”
Her stomach quivered, and she shook her head.
He looked at her carefully. “You’re not on shift now, right? Cruz is there?”
“Yes. Look, did you mean out as in . . . a date? You’re taking me out on a date in a helicopter?” Just saying it made her want to curl in a ball of both terror and excitement.
“Yeah. I want to test things out. We’ll fly into Boise, have a nice dinner, and come back—” He broke off and cocked his head. “You’re afraid.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” She wasn’t afraid of anything. Well, except maybe admitting she was afraid. “It’s that I can’t just take off. I have stuff I have to do. Thanks for asking, though,” she added politely, and turned away. She wondered how fast she could run back to the kennels . . .
“It’s just dinner.”
And a flight to get there. “Boise is hours away, Brady.”
“Not by chopper.”
Holding her breath, she turned back. “Another time, okay?” With a smile that hopefully didn’t give her away, she started moving, forcing herself to walk not run.
“Which terrifies you more,” he called to her. “Going up in the Bell or going out on a date with me?”
Ah, hell. She pivoted to face him. He looked good, so damn good. She wanted to lick him from head to toe. “Look at me,” she said, gesturing to her work clothes of Carhartts pants, a long-sleeved tee layered with a short-sleeved one, both covered in animal hair. “I can’t go out like this, there’s no way.”
“Why not?” She spread her arms. “Because I’m a mess.”
“So go home, grab some girlie clothes or whatever you need, and let’s go.”
“Girlie clothes?” she asked with a choked laugh. “Where am I supposed to get them, the feed store?”
“Hell, Lilah.” He rubbed his jaw, looking sorry he asked. “Wear a potato sack for all I care—it’s just dinner. And anyway, I like you how you look.”
Crap. Crap that shouldn’t melt her right down to a puddle of goo. “Fine. I need ten minutes.”
She stared at him for a beat, then whirled and ran home to stare at her closet. In spite of complaining that she had no girlie clothes, she had plenty. He’d just knocked her off her axis is all. She wriggled into a denim skirt and knit top. She shoved her feet into cute boots and thought she looked a little bit like a country bumkin trying to play dress up. If he laughed at her, she’d slug him, she decided and ran back, half hoping he’d left. But nope, he was there, waiting.
He smiled at the boots.
“If you laugh at me, I—”
“I’m not laughing at you,” he said, rising to his full height with easy grace, and he was right. That was definitely not laughter in his eyes, but something that nearly singed her skin.
“You look beautiful,” he said with such simplistic candor that it rendered her speechless.
“You shouldn’t do that,” she finally managed. “You shouldn’t use sweet words like that. Act like my company means something to you. Like you want—” She cut herself off from saying “more.” “Not if you want me to remember what this is between us.” And what it isn’t.
He looked at her for a long moment. “Nothing was set in stone,” he said softly, and boarded the chopper.
Left standing alone, Lilah looked upward. Blue sky, not a single cloud. Of all the times not to have a summer storm on the horizon.
There was a very slight breeze but definitely not the monsoon she could use right about now.Do it, she told herself. Get on, or you’ll regret it. So with that little pep talk out of the way, she took a deep breath and boarded. Oh God. She white-knuckled herself into the seat next to Brady, ignoring him watching her. “Let’s get this over with,” she said.
“You do realize it’s supposed to be fun,” he said, handing her a headset so that they could communicate over the noise while in the air.
She decided there wasn’t a polite response to that so she went the route of Thumper’s mother and said nothing at all.
He laughed, the sound soft and sexy, and reached over to squeeze her hand with his. “Don’t worry,” he said, flipping switches on the instrument panel in front of him. “I’ve seen a guy do this once or twice.”
“Oh God.” She closed her eyes.
“Are you going to look at all?”
It was weird, hearing him both in her headset and also outside of it. Brady, in stereo. “I don’t know yet.”
She felt more than saw him shake his head. “Here we go,” he warned a minute later.
The roar of the engine, the rotation of the blades, the sheer terror of the sensation of going straight up into the air had her gripping the arms of her seat so tight her fingers went numb. She forced herself to breathe, but nothing could make her look as her stomach landed in her toes at that weightless feeling as they got air.
“You breathing over there?” he asked.
“Yes.” Barely. “And don’t talk to me. Fly the helicopter!”
“I can do both. Open your eyes.”